The lionfish is a prized aquarium species, best known for its vibrant stripes and spiky fins.
It is also venemous and a voracious predator with a population growing out of control in the Atlantic Ocean along the U.S. east coast.
Long a concern for researchers and scientists, the lionfish is an invasive species in the Atlantic, and efforts to control the population have not been successful according to the Christian Science Monitor.
“There is strong evidence that the lionfish is having negative effects on the native population,” Oregon State scientist Stephanie Green told CSM. “We don’t see any signal that anything is controlling lionfish population.”
The problem is that the lionfish, which is native to the western Pacific, has no natural predators in the Atlantic Ocean. They live up to 15 years, and one female can produce as many as 2 million eggs in one year. That adds up to a whole lot of hungry lionfish. Estimates have the Atlantic population increasing 700 percent from 2004-08 alone.
Growing up to 18 inches long, lionfish are skilled hunters known to eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. CSM estimates that about 70 percent of the Atlantic’s fish species is on the lionfish’s menu and that at least 40 native species have suffered thanks to the lionfish. They are especially threatening to native coral and have been found with fatty livers from gorging so much on Atlantic Ocean natives.
How did the lionfish show up in the Atlantic? Theories range from displeased aquarium owners dumping them into the ocean to Hurricane Andrew having swept pet lionfish into the ocean in its wake when it devastated South Florida in 1992. Scientists believe as few as six lionfish introduced to the Atlantic led to the boom that exists today.
Commonly seen around Florida, the lionfish is known to thrive from the Bahamas north to the North Carolina coast.
So what’s being done to try to control the population? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association recommends getting your spear prepped and your grill hot. Instead of ordering that overfished tuna next, see if lionfish is on the menu.
Despite the poisonous spines protruding from the bodies, lionfish are perfectly safe to eat with the spines removed and evidently quite tasty. Reef.org has published a lionfish cookbook, while lionfish hunts and fish fries have become popular in Florida.
With few ideas to rein in the lionfish population outside of human intervention, expanding food horizons may be vital to the health of the Atlantic Ocean.